I’ve always had a sweet tooth, but as I was traveling on a tight hitchhiker’s budget, dessert didn’t come too frequently, except when our meal was replaced by a Snickers bar cut down the middle. When it did, it was welcome with open arms. During my first trip to Turkey, I was amazed to see the vast amount of brightly colored sweets, ranging from fruity to nutty to chocolate. When I moved there, I realized just how much they love their sugar. At my job, cake was served weekly, sometimes even twice per week. One bite of any of these is enough to land you in a sugar-induced coma, but the taste is so worth it.
Ballı Çerez (bahl-ih cheh-rez): a condiment made from honey and nuts. Whether used as a topping or eaten on its own, this stuff is delicious. Some companies even advertise its aphrodisiac properties on the label.
Lokum (Turkish delight): a sweet made from starch and sugar. Lokum is more of a family of desserts than a single dish. It’s always colorful, stuffed with nuts (pistachios, hazelnuts, or walnuts), and covered with icing sugar or cream of tartar. Typical flavors include rosewater, cinnamon, mastic and various citrus fruits.
Lokma: a fried doughnut soaked in syrup. This one was dusted with powdered pistachios.
Hand-turned Lollipops: self-explanatory. I’ve never seen this done on a street, until I was walking near Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul. Colorful viscous sugar is twirled around a stick and hardens within seconds. Pretty sweet (pun intended).
Künefe (kyoo-neh-fay): a pastry made with white cheese, covered in very thin broken noodles, and soaked in that ever-present syrup. The outer texture is similar to shredded wheat, but the inside is like a savory cheesecake. It’s also usually topped with pistachios. By far my favorite Turkish dessert.
Halva: a super dense confection made from semolina or tahini. It usually has pistachios in it (are you noticing the trend?), and is eaten with breakfast.
Baklava: a traditional Ottoman dessert made with filo pastry, nuts, and loads of honey. Twenty cavities per slice, but so worth it.
Halka Tatlisi (Turkish churro): another deep-fried dough pastry soaked in syrup. You may also see them in a stubby rectangular shape. It’s the most popular street sweet in Turkey, but I’m not such a huge fan. I find it to be overly saturated in syrup and oil, and one bite was definitely enough. However, they only cost about $0.50, so it’s a good deal for an on-the-go dessert.
Dried apricots or dates stuffed with whole hazelnuts: one of the few Turkish desserts that isn’t overpoweringly sweet. The dried fruit pairs well with the natural saltiness and savoriness of the nuts. They’re a bit more expensive than the typical street sweets, but definitely worth a try. Think “simple trail mix in a bite”.
Baklava cakes: thin sweet noodles,soaked in syrup and somewhat hardened, then filled with candied nuts. This is one of my favorite desserts from Turkey. It’s a perfect little bite-sized cup of nutty bliss- the perfect blend of salty and sweet.
So next time you’re dining out in Turkey, make sure you leave room for the sweet treats. Just don’t tell your dentist.